Trials of Mana manages to emerge as another good classic game remade into something new, yet familiar at the same time.
Title: Trials of Mana (2020)
Developer: Xeen, Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (version reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC
Release date: April 24th, 2020
Seiken Densetsu 3, roughly translated to “Sacred Sword Legend 3,” was initially released in Japan in 1995 for the Super Famicom by Square. The game was developed as the official follow-up to Seiken Densetsu 2, better known in North America as the iconic SNES action RPG Secret of Mana. Unfortunately, a multitude of factors led to Square’s decision to not release Seiken Densetsu 3 outside of Japan. Many other Square titles that were Super Famicom releases also met this fate, including Bahamut Lagoon (which, to date, still has never had any official re-releases outside of Japan), Final Fantasy V, and Front Mission.
However, while many of these games eventually were either ported or remastered for releases on other systems, Seiken Densetsu 3 remained isolated in Japan for over two decades. Fortunately, North America finally got the chance to play the original Seiken Densetsu 3 in 2019, when Square released the Nintendo Switch exclusive Collection of Mana, which contained the first three original Mana titles.
Square Enix renamed Seiken Densetsu 3 to Trials of Mana, as the original series creator Koichi Ishii requested that the title name contain a reference to the number “3,” thus explaining the “tri” in “trials.” The decision to remake Trials of Mana into a fully new 3D action RPG came from current series producer Masaru Oyamada. Oyamada came up with the idea while developing the HD remake of Secret of Mana. However, the team opted to develop Trials of Mana into a full-fledged 3D remake instead of using the original “top-down” perspective that the main series was known for.
Trials of Mana is technically the follow-up to Secret of Mana, but like most games in the Mana series, it largely has its own story, characters, and settings that are vastly different from the other titles. If you’ve played any other game in the Mana series, many elements like the battle system and character designs feel instantly familiar.
The brightly colored visuals help Trials of Mana feel both “new” and “familiar” at the same time, giving the game a “Saturday morning cartoon” feel to it. Hidden treasures may require some light platforming, which shows that genuine thought went into designing the game’s 3D environments. Trials of Mana is more “toonish” in appearance and tone compared to the more mature and gritty Square Enix titles like Final Fantasy VII Remake, but similar games like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker prove, these types of visuals tend to hold up much better over time.
The ring menu from prior Mana games also underwent some changes for the remake, as it’s now accessible by pressing up or down on the d-pad. The ring menu consists of two rings, one for items and the other for magic spells. The item ring is customizable with different items, even though only a set amount of items can be mapped to it at any given time. In addition to this, there are mappable “shortcut” buttons that can feature four items and four spells each, ensuring that the battles don’t need to constantly be interrupted in order to access the ring menus. Overall, the combat is very fun and surprisingly deep, feeling very similar to the combat mechanics in other action RPGs series like Kingdom Hearts.
A large issue that Trials of Mana suffers from is the inconsistent companion A.I. Similar to other Mana titles, the game does allow you to customize preset strategies for your computer-controlled characters.
However, Trials of Mana sometimes fails executing these strategies properly, as the computer-controlled companions often don’t perform their set functions as directed. For example, I set Charlotte to primarily focus on healing, yet it wasn’t her only sole function, as I needed her to occasionally help deal out damage to enemies. I quickly learned that this function felt useless, as Charlotte would charge into enemies almost exactly like Kevin, who I designated to all-out attack. I then set Charlotte to ONLY HEAL and never attack, but even when my characters were nearly dead I still had to manually instruct Charlotte to use healing magic.
Another issue where the A.I. programming was shockingly bad occurred during a boss battle against the Benevedon Dolan, arguably one of the toughest bosses in the game. Dolan has an attack that creates devastating shockwaves, which are only avoidable by jumping over them. However, my companions never attempted to jump over these shockwaves, despite changing the strategies out many times so I could find the correct settings. After dying several times, I finally got lucky and was able to defeat Dolan, no thanks to my non-jumping companions. Hopefully these A.I. issues get addressed in a future patch, but they severely disrupt the gameplay and tarnish the overall experience.
It’s impossible to talk about Trials of Mana without mentioning the game’s epic soundtrack. Hiroki Kikuta, composer for the original Secret of Mana and Trials of Mana soundtracks, primarily supervised the arrangements for the game’s musical score. The music always manages to feel very epic and proper, with some tracks even being recorded using a live orchestra, although most of the composed tracks used synthesized instruments. If you enjoyed the Secret of Mana soundtrack, than the Trials of Mana soundtrack will easily be right up your alley.
As is customary for most modern RPGs, the game prominently features voice acting throughout the story. Sadly, the voice acting in Trials of Mana is awful. There are some exceptions of course, but most of the voice acting feels like it came from a cheap 90s cartoon. For example, the dwarves and the earth elemental Gnome all sound like stereotypical western old-timey mining prospectors, even using the word “tarnation” at some point. The scriptwriting certainly didn’t help, but the voice acting is so bad that it can actually be distracting at times. Even some of the main characters sound terrible, such as Kevin sounding more like a dying robot than an illiterate werewolf, not to mention Charlotte’s “baby-talk” speech where every “r” is replaced with a “w” instead. In this regard, the voice acting would be more appropriate for a Looney Tunes episode instead of an epic fantasy RPG.
The Trials of Mana remake still manages to emerge as a very fun and action-oriented game, despite the terrible voice acting and inconsistent companion A.I. Along with a brand new post-game chapter written specifically for this game, the different character’s unique storylines and gameplay styles greatly enhances the game’s overall replayability.
It’s incredible to see a 25 year-old game reimagined in a fully 3D action RPG that boasts an incredibly deep-yet-simple combat system. Video game remakes are all the rage these days, with titles like Final Fantasy VII Remake and Resident Evil 2 setting a high bar for remaking classic games. Trials of Mana may not be in the same league as these other remakes, but for all its flaws it’s still an incredible JRPG that newcomers and action RPG fans should experience at least once.
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